June is Black Music Month. Created by Jimmy Carter in 1979, this month celebrates the Black American musical influences that comprise an essential part America’s treasured cultural heritage. With the intention to preserve, promote, and protect black music, Black Music Month recognizes the immeasurable impact that black music has had on almost all music today.
With over 20 years of experience in the music industry, Lindsay Guion believes that a month is not enough time to celebrate black music, but is grateful for the opportunity to educate on black music’s incredible influence. Going over the history and importance of this music, Lindsay Guion explains why this month should continue to be important to young black artists.
Early 20th Century
In 1925, a Harvard-trained Black American historian known as the Father of Black History’ Carter G Woodson announced Negro History Week, a celebration of people who many at the time believed had no place in history. For Woodson, it was vital to use black history and culture as a means to highlight the struggle for racial uplift. This step by Woodson was the first of many that fought to celebrate the achievements of black Americans in a predominantly white-dominated history.
In the 1920s, there was rising interest in African American culture that was represented by the Harlem Renaissance, where musicians like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jimmy Lunceford captured the new rhythm of city culture. Lindsay Guion explains that there should be a great sense of pride for young black artists in knowing how deeply influential black artists were on American culture in the 20th century and beyond. However, it might be important to revisit what work still needs to be done.
The Foundation of American Music
Whether you realize it or not, Lindsay Guion explains that black music is the foundation of American music, and it took many years for black artists to be recognized for their influence. For most of commercial music’s history, we have observed sounds and styles that were pioneered by black artists and musicians being appropriated by white artists and musicians—who then profited off of it. As Songwriter Kenny Gamble explains, Black Music Month started as an economic program in response to CMA establishing October as Country Music Month. Despite being established by Jimmy Carter in 1979, Black Music Month was not observed until 2000.
Paving the Way for Young Black Artists
In 1953, the Billboard Top 10 was all white. However, in 1993, 8 of the Top 10 were African American. While black artists have found greater representation in the music industry since 1979, Lindsay Guion explains that it is important for young artists to remember how far we have come—and in many ways, still have to go. Some may wonder why this month is still important, especially since urban music has officially become the dominant genre, but Lindsay Guion explains that it may be more important than ever. The fight for who defines black music and culture, who promotes it, and who reaps the benefits has been ongoing since the start of the 20th century. As Kenny Gamble explained, the whole culture of the music industry has changed, with fewer black executives or dedicated black divisions like back in the day, there are many A&R people at these companies who do not know anything about black music.
In addition to recognizing how far we have come, with the hope of educating people on the influence and significance of black music, Lindsay Guion explains that this month is also an opportunity for us to re-assess of how far we still have to go.